Boys basketball preview: Willmar Cardinals will be led by lots of new faces

Boys basketball preview: Willmar Cardinals will be led by lots of new faces


— The Willmar boys basketball team’s transition from 2022-23 to this season is more akin to a line change in hockey.

Out goes the starting lineup. In comes a whole new starting five for the Cardinals.

In total, Willmar graduated eight seniors from last year’s team that went 11-16 last season. That includes a 4-12 mark in the Central Lakes Conference.

Willmar head coach Jeff Holtkamp speaks to his team during a timeout during a Section 8AAA playoff game against St. Cloud Tech in St. Cloud on Tuesday, March 7, 2023.

Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

“We will be very inexperienced this season,” said Cardinals head coach Jeff Holtkamp. He’s entering year three on the bench.

“This year’s group played JV together last season and showed tremendous improvement throughout the year. They gained a lot of confidence and had great team chemistry.

“We have multiple players (who) can drive to the basket and shoot well from the perimeter. They work extremely hard and will improve each day.”

The only player back from the rotation is 6-foot-2 senior guard Will Sportel.

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Guarded by Becker’s Mitchell Soltau, Willmar senior Brady Murphy drives toward the basket before passing the ball to one of his teammates in a non-conference matchup on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, at the Big Red Gym in Willmar.

Michael Lyne / West Central Tribune

“He has a nice jump shot and good leaping ability,” Holtkamp said of Sportel. “He shot 52% overall last season.”

The Cardinals sport two more 6-2 guards in sophomore Avery Christensen and junior Jackson Schnichels. Also in the backcourt is senior 6-0 guard Tucker Swanson, who Holtkamp believes to be a threat on the perimeter.

“(Avery has) the ability to score on drives and from the 3-point line,” Holtkamp said of Christensen. “(He) has great court vision that puts teammates in position to score.”

On Schnichels, Holtkamp added, “(He’s a) strong overall player. (He) will play great on-ball and off-ball defense. (He) gets to the rim and scores or sees the open man. (He) will also be a consistent outside threat.”

Seniors Tyler Evans and Landon Ogdahl, and junior Blake Reiman will vie for time at guard.

Junior Ethan Riemersma is a 6-5 forward who’ll give the Cardinals some size in the lane. Other forwards in the mix are seniors Matthew Mohr and Brady Murphy.

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Willmar senior Tucker Swanson leaps up for a layup in a non-conference matchup against Becker on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, at the Big Red Gym in Willmar.

Michael Lyne / West Central Tribune

“He’s a hard-working athlete (who) will get many defensive and offensive rebounds,” Holtkamp said of Riemersma.

Willmar was eighth in the nine-team CLC last season. Two Central Lakes teams, Alexandria (3rd, AAA) and St. Cloud Tech (9th, AAA), are ranked in the top 10 of the Class 3A preseason polls. They are also teams in Section 8AAA with Willmar.

“Keys to a successful season will be to take care of the ball, have quality possessions, get out into transition to get easy baskets, and to out-rebound our opponents,” Holtkamp said. “Our schedule will be tough. The Central Lakes Conference has many quality teams and our non-conference schedule includes a lot of strong opponents.”

(All games start at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

Dec. 1 — vs. Becker

Dec. 5 — vs. marshall

Dec. 7 — at Sauk Rapids

Dec. 12 — at Brainerd, 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 15 — vs. Alexandria, 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 16 — at Little Falls, 2:30 p.m.

Dec. 19 — at Sartell, 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 28 — vs. St. Paul Humboldt, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 5 — vs. Hutchinson, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 6 — vs. Detroit Lakes, 4:30 p.m.

Jan. 11 — at St. Cloud Tech, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 16 — vs. St. Cloud Apollo, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 19 — at Rocori, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 25 — vs. Fergus Falls, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 27 — vs. Brooklyn Center, 2:15 p.m.

Jan. 30 — vs. Sauk Rapids, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 2 — vs. Brainerd, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 8 — at Alexandria, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 10 — vs. Little Falls, 6:15 p.m.

Feb. 13 — vs. Sartell, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 15 — at Monticello, 5:30 p.m.

Feb. 20 — vs. St. Cloud Tech, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 22 — at St. Cloud Apollo, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 26 — vs. Rocori, 7:15 p.m.

March 1 — at Fergus Falls, 7:15 p.m.

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